After 10 years in Jordan, mother-of-two Nour is settled in her new community. But cost-of-living increases mean her economic situation remains precarious.
Like many boys his age, 14-year-old Muhammed loves sharing videos on social media – in fact, he has amassed 5,000 followers for his TikTok reels of animals and funny incidents he sees in the street. “He wants me to buy him a laptop and other equipment so he can set up a YouTube channel,” says his mother, Nour, with a wry smile. “He says he’ll pay me back within a year.”
The truth is that Nour, 35, can barely pay the rent on their apartment, let alone invest in a new computer.
“Every month, the landlord and his wife come for the rent and, if we don’t have the full amount, they threaten to evict us,” she says. “It’s very stressful. I live constantly in fear. And now our utilities bills have doubled or even tripled since last year. Sometimes electricity is almost as much as rent.”
In the 10 years since she fled Syria, Nour has tried hard to build a life for herself in Amman. On Zoom, she speaks eloquently, even in translation, and her face breaks into a smile when she talks about her children. But it’s clear the strain of living hand-to-mouth is taking its toll.
As the head of her household – and struggling to get by – Nour receives cash assistance from UNHCR, which she describes as a “lifeline”. It enables her to cover some of the cost of rent and food, but not all. To supplement the assistance, she gets up early most mornings to prepare Syrian food to sell to neighbours. While the children are at school, she gives private lessons in mathematics, drawing on what she learned during her degree in economics and marketing. But as energy costs continue to rise, her financial situation is deteriorating.
“My son feels a lot of responsibility for our family, and he asks me, ‘How long will we be living like this?’” she says. “The boys say it might be better to return to Syria and start from scratch. But I don’t want to go back. So many of my family and friends are either dead or have disappeared.”
Like many refugees, Nour was forced to flee her home quickly, carrying whatever possessions she could. Her family was being harassed by Syrian government forces, who were looking for her husband, father and other male relatives. Her boys were aged two and four at the time, and she had a three-day-old baby.
“The military men wanted to take the baby as a way of forcing my husband out of hiding,” says Nour. “So that night I decided to leave with my mother, sister and children, and we reached the border at 2am.”
Nour’s husband was discovered hiding in the factory where he worked with his father and brothers. She hasn’t heard from him since, and believes he was murdered in captivity.
“My first year in Jordan was the most difficult,” says Nour. “I didn’t want to even open the door to our apartment as I was afraid of seeing strangers there, like the men who had searched our home. But little by little I was able to take the children to some playgroups as well as engage in some vocational activities like nursing.”
Working outside the home has proved difficult, though, as Muhammed has developed problems with his speech since leaving Syria and attends a school for children with learning difficulties. Sometimes he gets verbally and physically attacked on the way home from school or the mosque, even by younger children, says Nour.
“The older people know what we have been through and treat us with kindness, but the younger ones don’t understand our situation.”
Three years ago, Nour and her boys experienced another heart-breaking loss. Her youngest child, Jawad, died during what should have been a routine operation. He was six years old.
“There was a problem with the anaesthetic and he died during the procedure,” she says. “I used to find it difficult to sleep, as I was thinking constantly about what we’ve been through. I had to seek support and take pills. But now I try to keep busy and there’s no time to think about anything.”
Her greatest hope is to secure resettlement to a third country, such as Sweden or the US. “I have Palestinian Jordanian friends here, as well as fellow Syrians, and my children even speak with Jordanian accents,” says Nour.
“But I want to provide a better life for my children.”
Without financial support, Fatima's son couldn't get the cancer treatment he needs
The majority of funds raised by Australia for UNHCR are directed to UNHCR’s emergency operations, providing the ready funds and resources to respond quickly and effectively in situations of crisis and disaster.